Viking Women in the Isle of Man, Dr Fenella Bazin, 16.4.14, by John Slater

Can any evening be that good? Well, this one was! For a long while we’ve struggled with various combinations of computers, projectors, sound and lighting. The technical staff at the Centenary Centre has been very supportive but at times, other commitments have prevented them from helping. They’ve kindly offered to train up some of our members. To my delight, three excellent members volunteered. Our thanks to all concerned plus a big sigh of relief!
I also asked for a volunteer for a new editor for our newsletter. Once again, a splendid volunteer appeared without hesitation. Two wonderful events in one evening! Not satisfied with this, a third followed. An exceedingly good presentation by Dr Fenella Bazin on the role of Viking Women in the Isle of Man made us why we’ve waited sixteen years since her last visit. This was in the old banqueting hall of the Creg Malin. That jogged some memories!
My light-hearted introduction asked if it was true that Viking warriors bowed before their wives so that they could wind wool on the horns of their helmets! This tied in with Sam’s poster depicting the Pagan Lady’s necklace, discovered in the 1982 Peel Castle Dig, hanging on the horns of a helmet. Interestingly, Fenella was wearing a copy of this necklace, (she said it was only a copy!)
Fenella said that her interest in the Vikings was prompted by a poster of Norway on her bedroom wall. The 1982 Peel 3-week teaching dig in Peel cathedral with its spectacular finds of a Viking silver hoard and the foundations of a palace sealed her future.
When a stone lid was raised from a grave, a woman’s skeleton was found with a number of exciting artefacts. The British Museum sent a conservator the next day to empty what became known as the Pagan Lady’s tomb. Lots of domestic items included a roasting spit and shears. The most famous item is her necklace. Some of the glass beads were identified as using re-cycled Roman glass. Around the lady’s waist was a knife in a case and a comb.
Who was this lady – a Viking or a Celt? She was wearing Celtic dress, buried in a Christian cemetery with Viking grave goods.
Viking husbands clearly thought very highly of their wives. If they pre-deceased them, elaborate crosses might be erected in their memory. Some have shown a woman riding a horse side-saddle, some with hunting scenes, a goat, a boar and even a family cat. A good mouser was highly prized, as today!
The wife’s responsibilities were massive, especially with a husband away on hunting, fishing or battle trips. Many were left widowed and had to know how to manage a household of up to seventy people, including extended members, servants and slaves. They all had to be fed and clothed, of course. The latter was all hands to the primitive looms and other fabric tasks. It was too slow and laborious to meet the family’s needs so even the warriors would lend a hand when home!
Women were encouraged to be thinking and decisive. Much of the decision- making was laid upon their shoulders. If there was no son, the eldest daughter would inherit. Although her first husband was chosen for her, if she was widowed, she could choose subsequent ones.
All women had to be knowledgeable of Viking history and the gods so that this could be passed to subsequent generations. Viking women were a force to be reckoned with!
The very large audience kept Fenella plied with questions after the interval so that it was hard to close the meeting. We can’t wait another sixteen years!

Next meeting, 7.30 pm Wednesday 21st May, in the Centenary Centre when Pat Newton will be presenting, ‘Three Legs of  Knockaloe, a Farming Dynasty.’